A British film about the Holocaust that was abandoned and shelved for 70 years because it was deemed too politically sensitive.
The smell came from the dead, their bodies burned or rotting; or from malnourished, often disease-ridden prisoners in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, near all those thriving German farms.
The British Ministry of Information’s Sidney Bernstein (who later founded Granada Television) was commissioned to make a documentary that would provide incontrovertible evidence of the Nazis’ crimes.
Bernstein assembled a remarkable team, including the future Labour cabinet minister Richard Crossman, who wrote the film’s lyrical script, and Alfred Hitchcock, who flew in from Hollywood to advise Bernstein on its structure. They set to work on a documentary entitled German Concentration Camps Factual Survey.
As they worked, reels of film kept arriving, sent by British, American and Soviet combat and newsreel cameramen from 11 camps, including Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. As well as the dead, the footage showed starved survivors and human remains in ovens.
The film, which some have called a forgotten masterpiece of British documentary, was shelved for 70 years. Bernstein died in 1993 and, according to Singer, one of his regrets was not completing his Holocaust documentary.
Now, 70 years on, director and anthropologist André Singer has made a documentary called Night Will Fall, to be screened on Channel 4 later this month, telling the extraordinary story of filming the camps and the fate of Bernstein’s project.
Singer still thinks such deeply upsetting and horrific images should be seen. “I was born on 4 May 1945, so I’m of a generation who knew about these things, but I have sons of adult age who knew little. We need images like this for the new generation.”
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